Gunmen kill priest during religion class

Bogota, Colombia - Gunmen dragged a Catholic priest out of a classroom in rural Colombia Thursday and shot him to death, bringing to three the number of clergy killed in the South American nation this week, officials said.

The Rev. Jesus Adrian Sanchez, 32, was teaching a high school religion class in Chaparral county, about 130 miles southwest of Bogota, when he was seized by gunmen, said parish priest Lizardo Monroy.

Monroy said he knew of no threats against Sanchez, whom he described as a good-humored priest who often rode his motorcycle to villages to celebrate Mass.

Tolima state police chief Col. Luis Ramirez said it was too early to say who may have killed Sanchez.

On Monday two Catholic priests driving their car down a country road were killed when suspected guerrillas ambushed their car with gunfire and explosives. Two laborers traveling with the priests also were killed in that attack.

The Catholic Church has played an active role in mediation efforts during Colombia's war, in which leftist groups battle the government and right-wing militias.

The clergy's front line role in the peace efforts have come at a heavy price. An archbishop, a bishop, 60 priests and three nuns have been killed in the past 20 years, many of them by armed groups involved in the conflict, according to the church.

Colombia is embroiled in a 40-year-old civil war pitting two leftist rebel armies against a handful of right-wing paramilitary factions and government forces. Some 3,000 people are killed every year, and all sides have been blamed for human rights abuses.